The Needle Prick Project: Kim Landry in the Fight Against HIV Stigma
Kim Landry is one of those special women who has made her way into the hearts (and liquor cabinets) of just about half of the gay population. Preferring vodka and sarcasm over beer and buffalo wings, she quickly found a comfortable spot on the guest list of every homo event in town. Still, Kim was a dedicated mother and skipped even the most fabulous soirees if they conflicted with her son’s lacrosse game or a miniature golf birthday party. But when all was quiet on the domestic front, she was right in the middle of the dance floor with her closest friends. She might not be the traditional apple pie type, but her maternal bent was undeniable, and many of her gay friends revealed their most intimate thoughts, feelings, and secrets to their new makeshift mother. When it came to HIV, she was far too aware of the damaging stigma that has fallen upon some of her closest of friends, even if they didn’t want to admit or talk about it. But Kim is never one to stay quiet, especially when someone is messing with one of her boys.
Kim moved to Dallas from a small town in central Texas after her divorce was finalized. With her son, Tyler, in tow, she relocated for a new job and to be close to something that resembled family. As it happens among gay people, Kim wasn’t close to her own family, so she found new people to love as her own.
After several months of adjusting in her new city, Kim struck up a new love affair with a man named Brian. Through Brian, she met his gay brother, Eric, and Eric’s current boyfriend, Anthony. Unfortunately, the glue that held her and Brian together wouldn’t last, but it was quite the opposite for his brother and his boyfriend.
Kim was immediately drawn to Eric and Anthony. They were witty, honest, and unlike anything she left behind in her small Texas town. She began to fill her weekends spending time with the two of them and, eventually, many of their friends. There were long dinners, long conversations, and even longer bar tabs. Soon enough, her contact list was virtually all gay men.
“People give me a hard time constantly for pretty much only having gay friends,” Kim said. “It wasn’t a conscious choice, like ‘Oh, I only want to hang out with gay men.’ I was just mesmerized by how wonderful this group of people was and how much I had this urge to protect them. They just became a group of people that I simply adored, and they all happened to be gay.”
After Eric and Anthony split, Kim remained close to each of them. Coming from her own experiences, she was not one to let people she loved drift out of her life simply because of the inevitable breakups, including Anthony. Their relationship was special and long-lasting, which is why it came as a surprise that he had waited so long to tell her he was HIV-positive.
Kim says that wasn’t something she really had thought about one way or the other. Anthony was the first HIV-positive person she knew (or, at least, the first one who told her). After a long conversation in which Anthony explained his story and described his struggle for acceptance and understanding within the gay community, the fight against HIV stigma quickly became a battle of her own.
“It frustrates me seeing so many people being sad and struggle with letting being gay define them. The same goes for people are HIV-positive,” Kim said. “We all have something that we scared to tell another human being. You have to be willing to accept yourself to accept that other person completely. I just can’t believe that someone would reject a person who could potentially be a great love just because of a disease that is manageable.”
Needless to say, Anthony and Kim’s friendship only strengthened as a result of him revealing his HIV-positive status. Over the years, several other friends opened up to her about their status and their struggles with HIV stigma as well. Never one to reveal any secrets that weren’t her own, she quickly became the substitute for many of her friends who didn’t quite know how to confide in their own mothers.
“I don’t really know what it is about me. People just feel comfortable telling me their stories,” Kim said. “I think a lot of times people just see me as a mother figure. Maybe it’s just because I am so damn old!”
Or maybe it’s just because she is just a damn good mother. When the Needle Prick Project had just begun to surface and had yet to even register on the radar, Kim recognized the value the project could have in the gay community, but she also saw an opportunity to make an even bigger impact. On the day that she was supposed to take her own photo for the project, she walked into the studio with her son.
Tyler was 15 years old, and Kim knew that the topic of sex wasn’t just approaching, it had arrived. Of course, she would take part in the photo project as a pledge to have a conversation about HIV, HIV stigma, and the need for testing … and who better to have a conversation with first than her own son?
She also wanted Tyler, a heterosexual teenager, to take part in the project so he could better understand HIV and how damaging HIV stigma could be to many of the people in his life.
“As a parent, there is nothing that my son could say or do that could make me love him any less,” Kim said. “People don’t talk to their kids about HIV. I want my son to protect himself from any disease, but I also want him not to judge others [who are HIV-positive].”
About a week later, Kim was out on a Sunday afternoon with her usual entourage, enjoying a little sunshine and a little more champagne. Her picture had posted the prior week, and it had spawned some lively dialogue among her friends. She had helped a project that was important to her grow, and for that, she was happy. Then a stranger approached her. He had seen her picture on Facebook and thanked her for it. He said that because of her picture, he had found the courage to come out to his family and friends about his HIV-positive status.
“That was so powerful. It made me so happy to think that something I did could impact a person so much,” she said. “I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week!”
We fear the prick of the needle. But a conversation about what it means to be HIV-positive today is just the medicine that everyone needs.
Get Pricked. Kim Landry did.
TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit Facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Twitter at @iamtylercurry. For more on Kim Landry, follow her on Twitter at @kimlandry99.